As became clear earlier this week in the discussion around how academic associations should respond to Trump’s travel ban in organizing their annual meetings, President Trump’s policy does not only affect national and religious minorities; it does not only affect scientists from Muslim-majority countries. In the case of the travel ban, it is also an existential attack on scientific inquiry – inhibiting scholarly collaboration and exchange on which all scientists rely. Excluding individuals from freedom to share scientific ideas based on their nationality or faith from is discriminatory and contrary to the US constitution and to human rights law, but it is also an impediment to science itself.
Indeed, a pillar of Trump’s vision appears to be his hostility to science. Within days of taking office the Administration had issued gag orders and funding freezes for government science agencies and reversed science based policies. An unrepentant plagiarist who believes evolution should not be taught in schools is close to being confirmed as Education Secretary. The situation is so bad that Dan Drezner encourages political scientists to assume National Science Foundation grants will be on the chopping block in the next months. And he is probably right.
The good news: as with many other issues, the opposition response has been quick and swift, with a March for Science now being organized for Earth Day, April 22:
The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.
Social scientists concerned with international relations have good reason to support, publicize and join this effort. Evidence-based foreign policy has never been more vital, and the authority of scientists and experts never more fragile in the “post-truth” era. Nuclear security and climate change adaptation depend on both physical and social science. Risk analysis is critical to a sensible approach to counter-terrorism and a measured response to media fixation on outlying events. Social scientists have a role to play in slowing or blunting policies based on fear, misinformation, propaganda or logical fallacy.
Of course there is scientific debate about the political significance of marches as a tool for influencing policy change. Social scientists can and should be and are engaged in many other forms of activism, Weberian and civic at this time: holding the media accountable, writing Monkey-Cage style op-eds, running for office, using our connections and expert authority to visit our Senators in collective delegations, protecting our colleagues, working through our institutions to protect the scientific process and through our social media accounts to correct conspiracy theories, alternative facts and racist logical fallacies circulating in our networks.
Yet a Million-Scientist-March with an army of fact-loving citizens at our backs should be thought of as more than one among many efforts to communicate to the government. Mass marches are a signaling tactic for audiences within and beyond our borders, and a way to influence the national political narrative. Large crowds in the streets on April 22 will affirm to the world that particularly around pressing global issues not all Americans are willing to deal in “post-truth.” And the march will be a focusing event in a discursive effort to inoculate American citizenry against the idea that there exist “alternative facts.”
Earth Day is a moment to think in global terms about our planetary security. I hope scholars of international security will be front and center.